Rolled up snow wash jeans, Adidas pumps, white socks, floppy fringes and terraces inspired shell suit jackets: our sixth formers seem to be resurrecting 80s casual in 2017. It feels easy to dismiss such fashionista recycling not as post- modern bricolage, but hackneyed and unoriginal. Could the same be said of that stereotypical “I’ve seen it all before, and know what works in my classroom….nothing is ever new in teaching” attitude of the experienced teacher? There is certainly a parallel cliché of senior leaders in other schools who might despair of ‘blockers’: the well established teachers who are too arrogant to admit they can still learn.
With over 80 years combined teaching experience between the 3 of us: could we be guilty of lacking ambition and ‘blocking’ in order to cling on to familiar, lazy crutches so we manage to limp towards a joint century in the profession? Even more suspicion could arise as we have all chosen, and are very happy, to remain as middle managers, with no over vaulting ambition to have either more power, or more responsibility. Does this logically mean that as professionals we are ‘stuck’ and just treading water? Spending an hour a fortnight as a collaboration team this academic year as a result of Heathfield’s commitment to Continuing Professional Learning has allowed us to reflect upon what we have in common as professionals: we bring breadth, experience AND enthusiasm. We are not ‘blockers’, and know that what makes teaching such an amazing career is to embrace change and innovation; we are more than willing to adapt and understand that change is constant.
Evidence of our persistent evolution would be the depth and development of our pedagogy: we never stop learning about our subjects; whether that is to read new playwrights, launch the A Level Philosophy and Ethics specifications or update our knowledge of the government’s constantly changing landscape around apprenticeships. We also embed technology as best we can into our departments and we still make sure we give our time and our ability to foster positive relationships with young people to their benefit either in Sixth Form coaching, wave one learning intervention, careers’ advice or after school rehearsals.
In a school where some staff do stay for a large part of their career (Parents’ Evenings can often be a tricky experience when mums and dads remember you as their GCSE teacher, but we do not always remember them. We have all agreed that the first former student asking us about their grandchild in our Y7 class will mean we have been at Heathfield for too long!) Additionally, we have all had the amazing experience of former students becoming colleagues and be part of our cycle of learning and innovation. Those teachers more recently qualified than us, or whom we mentor, offer so much that revives and enlivens our own practice. Recent experiences in the CPL pillars often exemplify this. Our collaboration team time together has allowed us to share what we have learnt from our different pillars, and with two of us involved in an innovation team, that adds further breadth to our professional learning in our fortnightly discussions.
Parents and colleagues whom we, and other teachers at HCC, have taught, are part of our success as a school; positive memories of a good learning experience in a strong teacher’s class is an advantage. To know that teacher stays at a good school consolidates our reputation as a community college. Our alumni can help build our future; these are links the three of us are sharing and helping to develop.
To reference the recent horse racing analogy, it does not matter how old the trainer is as long as they know how to motivate and enable both horse and jockey. The DfE admitted in 2016 that currently 30% of teachers quit within 5 years of starting in the profession. For schools to continue to flourish we have no choice but to celebrate, incorporate and acknowledge experience. Being afforded the time to reflect upon our practice and support our mutual development is only of benefit to us, our departments and ultimately the students.
Jo Taylor (P.S.E) , Nicky O’Connell (Drama) and Helen Hughes (PRE)